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Detective Casebook: Modern Slavery and Justice & Care

Nuruzzaman Shahin was sentenced to 31 years’ imprisonment for a range of offences including eight counts of rape and seven counts of controlling prostitution for gain.

The recent conviction of Nuruzzaman Shahin for a series of rape, serious sexual assault and controlling prostitution offences followed a case that in the OIC’s words “had a difficult history”.

Keeping victims supported and on-board during modern slavery cases can always present challenges. In this instance, it was exacerbated by the fact that the initial cases for three potential victims were NFA’d due to a lack of corroborating evidence.

When the case was re-opened and more victims discovered, the Met leant on anti-slavery charity Justice & Care to help provide victims with as much support as possible during the investigation and subsequent trial.

Nuruzzaman Shahin was first arrested in 2018 after three complainants approached the police.

Shahin had set up a business called “Soul Mates Escort Agency” – he trawled online employment websites for women who were looking for work across a variety of industries.

He would make contact with them in an effort to recruit women into escort work - promising earnings of up to £500 a day. Shahin would then arrange for them to attend a face-to-face interview at a residential property in north London.

During the course of the interview and his ongoing contact with the victims, Shahin committed serious sexual offences, including various instances of rape and other serious sexual assaults against them.

Three complainants initially came forward to the police – but what followed was a number of NFA decisions. Two of the original complainants ended up with a charge in the trial.

For Justice and Care Victim Navigator Julie Currie: “Part of the [difficulty] came from the victims not understanding that actually, it's not the police that NFA - those decisions are made by the CPS. Because of that - that initial relationship broke down, because of them not fully understanding the system and the communication back from the police at the time.”

The initial case was borough-based, but there was a Detective Sergeant (now Detective Inspector) on the Modern Slavery team who had fought to keep the case open and move it over to the specialist unit.

OIC DC Caroline O'Shaughnessy explained to Police Oracle that the decision for a review came about primarily due to a solicitor from the Centre for Women’s Justice who was working on behalf of two of the initial complainants.

There were already concerns over Shahin due to the number of allegations that had been made.

Ms Currie, who joined the case later as a Victim Navigator later, said: “The police team that took it on - they smoothed that road over […] and rectified the difficulties there had been in those initial stages.

“It was then the volume of victims that meant Justice and Care got involved.

“I think the case belonged within that specialist unit,” she added.

“No criticism of the initial team – but it was something that was growing [and you needed] a specialist knowledge of how modern slavery legislation fitted in with it and the movement of people.”

Further victims were identified by looking through Shahin’s contact history – he was advertising women on ‘Adult Works’ - so by getting data from them the team was able to identify further individuals.

At this point, Justice and Care was just becoming involved in the case. There were two Victim Navigators assigned to support all the victims.

Ms Currie explained: “It's a huge ask – for people to put their lives on hold potentially for a good while. At that time, we didn't even realise quite how long that was going to be.

“Also supporting that allegation is a huge ask.

“You tend to have victims who right from the start are very determined to have their day in court and to see it through, where for others their lives have moved on a little bit. They've all got jobs, university courses, whatever it may be - to have that hanging over them is a massive ask.”

The strength of Justice and Care, she said, was being able to support victims therefore freeing up the investigating team to focus on the case.

“It is about being there for them - being that bridge between the police team and the victim - they all know that they can pretty much call as and when they need us and about anything.

“It’s about making sure that whilst this is going on in their lives, the rest of their life is running quite smoothly. Because if they've got a happy and settled life, then that makes them in a much better place to potentially go to court and to give evidence and to go through that.”

In this case, particularly relevant was communication with Universities and University tutors – Justice and Care was able to facilitate that and disclose as much or little information as the victim wanted – it meant mitigations like extra time on coursework, for example, were put into place.

DC O'Shaughnessy added: “We had a number of complications with complainants - one of them we worked out had a minor pending matter with the courts and Julie would go above and beyond -  she came to court with me help to sort that out.

“We had serious concerns for one of our complainants one weekend [...] I was able to ring Julie and say 'can you put a call in and make sure everything's okay'”

Ms Currie added: “One of the victims had a bereavement - her grandmother sadly died so our other navigator was able to help with that.

“Then there were all sorts of issues around probate and all of a sudden we were learning on the job ourselves about probate -  just to make their lives as easy as possible whilst they've got this running along in the background.”

Further, the two navigators were able to facilitate communications between the police and the victims. When DC O'Shaughnessy had a message she needed to send to all the victims for example, rather than using her time to do so – she could rely on the navigators. Similarly if she needed a further statement the navigators could organise that but also accompany the victims if they chose.

DC O'Shaughnessy came to the case six months before the trial.

“When I took this investigation on, the navigators already had a relationship with the complainants and I was well aware that there'd been some difficult history with the case – that not all of the complainants were particularly happy about the way that things had gone previously,” she said.

“To have somebody who already had a relationship and was able to have that independent relationship away from the police was absolutely brilliant.”

Justice and Care was also able to provide counselling – allowing them to avoid NHS waiting lists as well as give individuals a choice of the counsellor they see.

Navigators come from range of backgrounds – in this instance Ms Currie was a former Met officer, while the other navigator had a charitable background.

Ms Currie emphasises that this is about working alongside the police on those victim relationships.

“If an officer has built up a great rapport with a victim, then then I certainly wouldn't want to take that away from them and I wouldn't have let it happen when I was a police officer,” she said.

“On a case by case basis, it’s got to be a good thing. We always say that the issues that make people vulnerable to exploitation in the first place don't go away when they're rescued or when the defendant is in prison. Those issues are still there and have to be dealt with.

“There's always going to be learning points and hopefully for all of us, there is that of just how much we are asking of victims.

“You've got barristers, and that going, 'Oh, well, we need this statement, so we're gonna delay we're gonna do that', forgetting that actually that person's got a lecture to go to or got a job to go to and those delays are often the most stressful part.

“It’s not just the police, but that the court system in general has to think a bit more about victims and what they're asking them to do and how we can improve that.”

Justice and Care has 12 navigators around the country and a further two in Romania. They currently sit with Sussex, GMP, the Met, the EMSOU, Police Scotland, Organised Immigration Crime, GLAA and a national navigator.

An independent evaluation of their pilot found that the engagement level when navigators are involved with cases is 92%.

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